Some people feel sorry for me when I say "I don't celebrate Christmas." They usually think it's because my husband is Jewish, so they say "Happy Hannuka," but Christmas is not a holiday I've traditionally celebrated, so it doesn't matter whether I'm married to a Jew or not.
I guess you could say that the spirit of Christmas is something I've never really felt, maybe in the same way that I never experienced the so-called maternal instinct that many women do.
I don't decorate my house. I don't put up a tree, nor do I bake gingerbread cookies or fruitcake. I don't go to Midnight Mass, play Christmas carols or hang stockings. I don't give many presents anymore either, but there have always been a few exceptions. In the past, there were gifts for the children in my family, or for non-related children who were important in my life. And then there are small presents for a few of my closest friends. One year I suggested to two of my closest friends that instead of gifts, we give money to our favorite charity in each other's names, but that idea was quickly struck down. On Christmas Eve over these many years, I've been known to make French onion soup, light fragrant candles, and share a present with the man I love. But these days onion soup gives me gas, I'm allergic to fragrant candles, and I'm married to a Jew.
The first year Bruce and I were together, he knew I wasn't into Christmas, so he didn't give me a gift, although I had a box wrapped with his name on it, which I gave him on Christmas Eve. He seemed surprised and said, "I thought you didn't do Christmas." "Ok, I don't do Christmas," I replied, "but who doesn't like presents."
He got the hint. In our second year as a couple, Bruce gave me a DVD of a movie we'd seen earlier in the year on the big screen. I liked the movie, but I didn't have any interest in seeing it again. However, it is the thought that counts. By the time our fourth year together rolled around, I realized that a Christmas present from Bruce wasn't so important anymore. You see my birthday is in mid-January, and he's always very generous on that special occasion. One year he surprised me with a new computer, another year a camera, and one Christmas he paid for my flight to Paris because I feigned poverty, and he really, really wanted to go. When I retired from many years of working, I found a brand new Trek bicycle in the middle of our living room all decorated with balloons.
I'm surprised that some of my older friends still decorate the inside of their houses, string flashing colored lights on the bushes and trees, and put plastic reindeer and snowmen on their front lawns. I wouldn't want the hassle of putting up all that stuff and then having to take it all down a few weeks later, never mind the problem of not having enough storage. This year my only Christmas decoration was a flowering amaryllis that a friend gave me when it was merely a bulb that sat in a vase of pebbles to which I occasionally added water. Over the next few weeks I watched with amazement as the green stem grew a little each day, and finally after a couple of weeks, five beautiful red and white amaryllis blossoms popped out on top. After the flowers died, I just tossed the bulb into the trash. How simple compared to dragging a dried up Christmas tree out to the curb.
For thirty years I sent snail mail Christmas cards to my out-of-town friends because it was the only way we stayed in touch. When Bruce and I started traveling the world, I replaced the cards with a one-page "Year in a Nutshell" e-mail letter with month-by-month bullet points about the places we visited and what our families were doing.
If someone asks me why I don't celebrate Christmas, I have many answers. First, I'm not a religious person, or even a Christian for that matter, so the fact that Jesus was born on Christmas Day was lost on me early in my growing up years. I also think that my not having had children is another reason for my apathy since in my view Christmas is really a time for kids.
When I was growing up, Santa came sporadically because my parents worked 24/7 in their business, even on major holidays, although there were always some presents, but not necessarily from Santa. I really didn't seem to mind because Christmas day was always spent on the ski slopes anyway. There were a couple of Christmas celebrations that do stand out in my memory. One year my mother asked me to get her something from a second refrigerator we had in the basement. When I went downstairs, I saw a new pair of Head metal skis and poles leaning against the garage door and thought they looked my size. Since I didn't see a gift card, I wondered who they were for, never imagining that they might be for me. Another time I remember my father giving my mother a mink jacket. When she got over the shock, she asked him where he got it, and he told her some ridiculous story about how he found the coat on the side of the road when he pulled over to examine what he thought might be an injured animal. Obviously, my parents had their own issues about Christmas.
I certainly don't consider myself a bah humbug because I really don't mind if others want to enjoy the season and celebrate the holidays to their fullest. But what has been obvious to me for a long time is how stressful Christmas is for so many people, both financially and emotionally, and maybe for some, even spiritually. There seems to be expectations around the holidays that can never be fulfilled. Many families, who can least afford it, spend too much money on presents because they don't want to disappoint their kids, or their husbands or their wives. Perhaps some are shopaholics who max out their credit cards and figure they can pay them down later, but realistically, they never can. And what about people who have no family and live by themselves? It is well known that depression can run rampant on holidays. Retailers seem to benefit the most. Our local big box store began stocking shelves with Christmas decorations and toys in October. In early November, Christmas tree lots popped up in the same locations where Halloween pumpkins were sold just a few days earlier. And look at what happened on Black Friday this year when hoards of zealous shoppers stampeded the store and even knocked some people down.
Please don't feel sorry for me this Christmas because I'm getting ready to travel to Burma. Bruce and I are spending some time with family and close friends this holiday season, and packing for a trip that will include a hot air balloon ride over the 2,000 ancient temples in the Bagan Valley, and a celebration of my milestone birthday on a sandy white beach on the Andaman Sea. For us December 25th will be a day spent in California with people we love and enjoy, and friends who inspire and support us. If we exchange a few simple presents, it's not because we feel we have to. It's just a way of saying how much our family and friends enrich our lives every day, not just on Christmas.